Gainesville, VA - "I like to design hard golf courses," said PB Dye with a chuckle when I asked him what his philosophy was behind creating Virginia Oaks. The course is located about 35 minutes from downtown Washington, D.C., and true to Dye's word, provides quite a challenge to the player who decides to give it a roll. Jim Larkin, the course's Manager, adds "Virginia Oaks is a shotmaking club. The nature of the holes require good placement on the drives, but also around the greens."
The track probably isn't as hard as Dye's other Northern Virginia design-The Gauntlet at Curtis Park-but don't go to Virginia Oaks thinking it's going to be a picnic at an amusement park. There aren't any cotton candy holes here, but there's enough of a roller coaster ride to give you a thrill.
Measuring 6,928 yards from the back and playing to a par 72, there are plenty of elevation changes, forced carries over water, elevated putting surfaces, steep bunkers, and multi-tiered greens to keep you busy for four hours. Boredom is never an option at Virginia Oaks-each hole seems to provide its own unique challenge. Dye puts a premium on accuracy off the tee, and doesn't let up greenside either.
PB should be happy with his product-it's certainly not easy. Echoing these sentiments is Pat Pender, Virginia Oaks' Assistant General Manager: "The course requires you to hit it straight. If you stray, you feel as if you're hitting in the dark sometimes."
Don't go to Virginia Oaks thinking it's going to be a picnic at an amusement park.
If there's a knock on the course at all, it's the setting of some of the holes. While the signature fourth hole spectacularly winds down practically into Lake Manassas, there are several holes where the vistas consist of townhomes and upscale houses. The holes are hardly ruined by their presence, but it's not as picturesque as it would be without them.
One only needs to glance across the lake to the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, site of the President's Cup-to see where the potential of the property is. But it's probably superb for the homeowners!
All in all, Dye has done an outstanding job carving the course out of what appears to be a very difficult piece of ground. About the land, PB said "I told the developer, Milton Peterson, to 'plow up the ground and you'll have a hell of a rock quarry!'" It seems obvious in several spots that a great deal of earth had to be moved in order to shape the hole.
A good example of this is the aforementioned par 4 fourth, Virginia Oaks' signature hole. The hole plays to 432 yards from the championship tees, and requires a fade on the mildly downhill tee shot. If you don't get enough distance on the drive, you'll find a somewhat blind shot into the green, since you're literally staring at Lake Manassas below you with a green protected by mounds and steep bunkers.
There's little room to run the ball on the green, so you'll have to gulp hard and do it the high way. Anything long and you're negotiating with the Kingfish of Lake Manassas for return of the ball. Dye did a superb job of crafting the undulating green-and literally created something out of nothing-that's where the earth moving comes in.
The tough frontside ends with another Dye signature-his dad's and PB's-an island green. Having never been to the TPC at Sawgrass, I can't say whether the 17th green there's any larger-all I know is that the ninth at Virginia Oaks doesn't give a lot to shoot at. 135 yards of water stands between you and the green, and although there isn't quite the pressure of winning a prestigious tournament piled on your shot-it still rattles the nerves.
Dye said he designed the hole to be viewed from the clubhouse deck, where duffers who've finished their rounds can watch the oncoming groups have a go at the island-and maybe even place some bets! There's also an attractive waterfall bordering the hole-very well done.
The backside plays 224 yards longer than the front, but seems to be a fair amount easier. Maybe it's just because you've lived through some tough ones on the first nine. The tenth hole is a unique par five-and that's not only because it plays to 621 yards-it's an S shaped hole. The tee shot is downhill, and a good drive will still leave you with a tricky lie for the second. There's no going at the green here, as there's a tall stand of trees blocking your way even if you could hit a fairway wood from a downhill lie over three hundred yards.
As a result, the second shot is a 'layup', where you'll still leave a medium to long iron into the green for the third. As true a three-shotter as there ever was. Par here is an excellent score.
As seems to be true with most modern courses, there's a driveable (or close to it) par 4 at Virginia Oaks-the twelfth at 310 yards from the back. The tee shot must carry water-but it's not really in play for anything more than a pure shank. There's enough of a landing area to temp you to have a go at the green-but unless you've played here before, you won't have an idea what's there.
The green is protected by a large group of mounds, and there's water on the right that isn't readily apparent from the tee. This seemingly easy hole no doubt has caught more than a few unsuspecting players by surprise when what would seem to be good shots disappear into the Twilight Zone. This hole too is signature PB Dye-nothing is ever as easy as it might appear.
The round ends with the 545 yard par 5 eighteenth. Here, again, Dye calls for accuracy off the tee and the second shots. If you don't have a short third from the fairway, it might be difficult to hold the green, as it slopes somewhat severely on the edge down towards the water on the left. Here, even a relatively good shot can find the water if it's in the wrong spot.
The final shot on the final hole sums up the course-it can bite you if you 're not careful. It's the type of track that needs to be run a few times in order for you to know where to be to avoid the trouble spots. However, the reasonable rate structure (especially the twilight rates) will allow you to give it a go enough times to find out where you should be.
There are a couple items that could be improved with a small amount of care and attention. The range is located a short cart ride from the clubhouse-and if you don't purchase enough range balls, you're pretty much out of luck. In addition, on hot days, the water coolers need to be replenished!
Virginia Oaks certainly deserves to be towards the top end of the middle tier of courses in Northern Virginia-and definitely merits a visit-if for nothing else, because it's challenging!
7950 Virginia Oaks Drive
Gainesville, VA 20155
Phone: (703) 754-4200; (703) 551-2103
Fax: (703) 754-4136
Head Pro: Scott McArthur